Media & Me

My husband and I have always been cautious about media consumption with our children- or so I told myself.

We don’t like the way media makes our children act frequently. We don’t like how screens decrease their joy in other activities or how much time we spend figuring out and enforcing boundaries.

Previously, we set 30 minute limits of technology for the kids. Recently, however, we eliminated their media consumption almost entirely. It has been so, so good for our family.

I saw the negative impact of screen time with my kids, but never studied my own behaviour after technology use. So not only did I take it away from the kids, I took it away from me.

In my significantly less Internet, and Facebook life, I realised I wasn’t honest with myself about how I spent my time and energy as it related to social media.

LIE #1: Media is Bad for My Kids, but OK for Me.

My eight year old threw an enormous fit because I interrupted her 30 minutes of media time to take her to the splash park. She was totally ticked off- and I was furious about her spoiled brat attitude.

I thought this was exclusively a kid problem, but I sat on Facebook at the Splash Park that day instead of exercising, enjoying nature or talking to another human- so how was that different? Essentially, I pulled her off media, so I could escape on mine.

Occasionally, I’ll be reading something  interesting and my kid needs something. I get irritated that I have to go parent and have to halt my media to interact with these precious ones I birthed. I don’t like the message that sends my kids. I don’t want real people to feel second to electronic people.

I’m no different than the kids. My relationship with technology is unhealthy. Since I quit, I have enjoyed 6+ books. I forgot how much I loved reading. I studied ants for twenty minutes the other day, and found myself doing it again the next day. Finding wonder in and experiencing the natural world is something technology robs us of.  We play football with our thumbs instead of our bodies and watch cats on TV instead of stroking them on our sofas. I want to experience being alive, not be some person hooked up to a virtual Matrix.

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I potty trained my kid by letting him watch shows. I can’t believe I encouraged a two year old to bring a phone in the toilet. No wonder ADHD has increased so significantly. Our kids are never switched off- they are being stimulated constantly, and I’m apart of the problem. Wake up, Laura!

Lie #2: Facebook Keeps Me Connected to People

Facebook keeps me connected to people undoubtedly, but I forgot to ask myself an important question: Which people?

I ran into a Facebook friend that I had not seen in over a decade. It was kind of awkward because I already knew she got married, had two children, who she hangs out with and what restaurants she frequents. There wasn’t much to ask, and I felt really creepy.

The truth is I’m connected to a lot of people with Social Media, but I need to seriously evaluate this “friends” idea much more carefully.

What weird curiosity am I satisfying by looking at photos of people I don’t really know? What is this guys? Digital stalkers? What is the point? I still don’t know my motivation entirely for why I was on social media so frequently.

Escape? Distraction? Competition? Encouraging others? Celebrating with others? Connection? Compulsion? Effective communication? Spreading ideas? Listening? Understanding people? Boredom? Self-promotion?

I’m not really sure.

LIE #3:  I Am Immune From Social Media’s Pitfalls

Research correlates time on social media with increased anxiety and depression.

I don’t feel depressed, and I’m not an anxious person, so I didn’t think those statistics applied to me. I believed I was immune, an outlier, someone that wasn’t impacted by my Facebook participation.

Then I had a lightbulb moment. One study emphasized that it wasn’t being on social media that makes people anxious- it was being away from it.  Of course I wasn’t feeling anxious.  By continually checking Facebook, I was keeping the anxiety at bay.

I reduced my Facebook participation to 1-2 times per week rather than multiple times per day. I don’t feel like I have to reply to someone’s comment or follow-up with a question or rebuttal an opinion that caused conflict.

Sometimes Facebook can be a big headache. How do I show support to someone without necessarily agreeing with their opinion?

How do you give your opinion in a way that promotes relationship and conversation? I spent a lot of time figuring that out.

It can be a minefield.

It can make me feel inadequate.

It can make me sad or angry.

I just removed myself from the situation, and my spirit feels lighter.

How does your spirit feel after social media?

Are we neglecting self-discipline with our own media consumption?

What are we modelling for our children?

 

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Reverse Culture Shock

Experts say no matter how long you have been gone or where you went, moving back to your home country is unexpectedly difficult. My British husband, James talked about his reverse culture shock when we moved to England after being in the USA. He never settled back into British life.  People sympathetically ask how he is adjusting to Texas after leaving “home” a second time. James didn’t miss a beat. I think it helps that he has a career that organises his time and schedule for him. It also gives him an instantaneous network of people- even though he home offices- so he has less time to fill, and less decisions to make.

Meanwhile, I feel a bit lost. As a stay at home mom, particularly during the summer, it is up to me to figure out our day, how we spend our time, what we buy,  what we eat, and who we hang out with. I am beginning to see the difficulty of repatriation, although it is hard to put into words what is missing and different. Is it me? Is it America? What specifically is making it challenging to feel ‘at home’ again?

I could mention all the things I do love about America. The list is long. I’m glad to be back, but miss my friends in England, the depth of the culture, the landscape, our routine, and knowing which products to buy, what a good price was for produce, and where to spend weekends. I had a niche in England, too. I was “the Texan.” People always had something to ask me about- and I could get away with things my English friends said they couldn’t- like bartering or asking for upgrades at theatres.

Moving back, I’m now a parent to older children, just far enough away from my old neighbourhood and friends, and just changed enough in myself that I have refigure out almost everything.  I feel like I “should know” how to operate, but feel a bit alien. I feel clueless about how the school system works, even though I’m a product of it. When I saw a police officer with a gun at the elementary school, I made a seriously awkward shocked comment about it.  I only remember seeing an armed guard or police officer in England on very rare occasions.

I find myself sitting at long red lights where I could make a right as long as it’s clear, being shocked by sales clerks who are overly helpful, awestruck at the size of houses, people, cars, and portion sizes. I can’t revert back to using the word “restroom” and automatically request the “loo” or more awkwardly, “the toilet.” I picked up a weird inflection in my accent, but the kids are rapidly losing theirs. We’ve held onto words for Meredith like “dummy” for pacifier and “nappy,” but even she is using the American ‘diaper’ more regularly. My 7 year old drew me a picture and I was surprised that she wrote “Dear Mum” because I think she says “mom” most of the time.  I’ll ask how many pounds something costs and prefer weather updates in degrees Celsius. I’m still on the Facebook pages for my old community, and find myself scanning them looking at things people are selling or people posting about missing pets.

My son ran into our bedroom in tears because of the raining and “yellow banging” and I found myself scared for my life at the thunderstorm just this weekend. I had forgotten how intense the thunder and lightening can be. The poor kids didn’t even know what it was.

My dreams are weird amalgamations of American places with English loved ones and very frequently, I wake up expecting to be in my old house. I despise how readily medication is given out by doctors- even though I felt the UK national health service was slow to intervene when it was necessary.

I am sad that the range of diversity is so much more narrow than England. I can’t even say I miss the English, because most of my friends came from around the world. I used to joke at my friends’ coffee mornings that we basically made up the United Nations. I’m sad my kids (and I) won’t be exposed to as many cultures.

I miss walking to the grocery store and going almost everyday. I miss my daily loaf of fresh bread- buying baguettes even though the packaging was too short and the end of it touched the basket and the conveyor belt. I was accustomed to a slower pace of life and one of less competition and expectation and options. Sometimes I’m paralysed by too much choice. There are 368 restaurants in my city alone. Buying peanut butter is exhausting. I have to shop at Aldi in America. I cannot yet cope with the numerous options at your typical grocery store. Living in such a consumer country- with drive-thru pharmacies, dry cleaners and banks,  pay-at-the pump petrol stations- where every store stays open until 9 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 pm on Sunday is so convenient, but hard to get my head around again.

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I find it crazy the amount of organised sports for four year olds and how happy and positive Americans are in general. It’s like everybody drank happy juice. I missed that when I lived in England, and now I’m puzzled by it in Texas.

I always said in England that the English don’t notice one another, and I’m constantly thrown by how much Texans notice and respond to you. I’m not invisible anymore. It sometimes takes my breath away. I had forgotten how connected you can feel with strangers everywhere you go- I used to be the one putting forth the effort to make connection happen. I used to play a game to see how many people I could get to make eye contact and smile at me. It was hard work.

America is a whole different place. People hold doors, compliment your parenting, engage your children, offer you their unused coupons, recommend a product to make your life easier– all without asking or wanting something in return. England is such a culture of fear and suspicion. I have been surprised by how much that penetrated into my psyche. The niceness catches me off guard a bit. My daughter asked me, “How do we know ALL these people mom?!” When I told her they were polite strangers, she glared, “It’s very creepy, don’t you think?” We just aren’t used to it yet.

I adjusted well in England. My husband always said it was a 3 year move for our family, but I kept meeting expat after expat, who intended to be in England for a brief period of time, but as life goes, settled and didn’t leave- 10, 20, and 30 years later. I didn’t want to half live in England. I insisted we sell our house, our cars, everything in America to commit to living in one place. As it turns out, my husband was right- we moved back to Texas after 2.5 years, and with less than 2 months of real notice.

Having to sort out the logistics of downsizing to 7 suitcases while pregnant and still parenting 3 young children and organising all of our new life from abroad- I haven’t had much time still to process the change in my head. I am having trouble buying things “for real” because it all still feels so temporary. Seven houses in 9 years will do that for you, I guess. I still feel like I’m in this transient space. Not really here nor there.

I didn’t want to half live in England, and I don’t want to half live in Frisco. I think I’m a bit emotionally and physically drained from the transition- and making friends, making a home and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner takes a lot of energy– and I suppose, making a baby. I’m going to have to put the same level of energy into making this home as I did England- accepting everything for what is and not for what it isn’t, and establishing the culture of our family regardless of our location or surroundings.

I’m still working on how and when is best to connect to old friends and family, constantly wishing the time zones weren’t so different. I’m thankful for FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Facebook. I guess, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have lived in two great places. I need to give myself permission to miss the old and welcome the new- to give myself time to find my groove again and be patient as things settle.

It’s 30 days until baby #4 comes. That feels almost too big to think about right now. On top of it all, I’m going to be nursing a newborn and lacking sleep. And yet, in the next breath, we have had so much transition and so many kids, what is one more?

We are slowly getting furniture in the house. Most of the downstairs is empty, but the kids rooms are getting there. Baby’s room is missing some details, like curtains and a crib skirt. There are a few blank spaces for shelves and photos, but I’m happy he has a place to sleep. The giraffe picture makes me ridiculously happy and set the inspiration for the whole room. I just love him.

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America: Patriotism or Bravado?

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I’m glad to be back in America. I appreciate aspects of America like never before- especially the personal liberties. However, have you ever gone on vacation and come back home to something you lived with for years that sticks out majorly when you return? That’s what repatriation has felt like.  I’m seeing America with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and in some ways, I’m grossed out.

Notes on Patriotism

In England, vigorous support for one’s country was highjacked by intoxicated football fans who plastered St. George cross flags at games. In conversations with the English, many feel that displaying national symbols highlights them as racist. That is problematic and sad. England lacks a cultural identity which the Brexit move partially brought to light. People want a sense of unity back that has been dissolved by open borders and accommodating other cultures who did not offer reciprocity in return.

Brexit will not evoke patriotism.  The English would do better to invite the cultures who now live there to express a new unified spirit of collectiveness and integration, redefining Britain, rather than trying to return to a less multi-cultural land. As long as it is an “us vs. them” kind of spirit, the country’s potential will be limited. Visit London and you can go down streets that are 100% populated by occupants of one country or another. These people are very proud of their heritage and celebrate openly- flying flags, hosting cultural events, dressing and eating in line with their home country’s traditions. Meanwhile, the English are quietly and politely proud, as being “English” is becoming less and less definable.

Now back in the USA,  I was shocked by just how much national paraphernalia and symbolism there is by contrast. I would guess that 90% of my friends own an American themed outfit- particularly for this time of year. (I always did!) I don’t know any other place where that would be true. America loves showing that they love America. For Americans, it feels like a civic duty to display American flags- they are literally plastered everywhere. I checked out an entire CD of kids’ songs celebrating our heritage. We teach our children to be proud of America. Children as young as five pledge allegiance to the flag everyday at school. That never struck me as odd until I moved back. But I think that’s intense and very weird. Everyday? Really? 

(Please note the fans to make the flags wave in the store)

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

When I look at the US,  I can’t imagine donning those statue of liberty emoticon earrings right now. We have too much work to do, folks. In the pledge I recited everyday as a child, America is “One nation, indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

“One Nation:  with Liberty and Justice for All”

The headlines don’t reflect those values. I’m not seeing much submission to God or justice for all. I’m seeing division between political parties, neighbours, and racial tension. The white part of red, white and blue still creates first and second class citizens.  We actually have a movement called, “Black Lives Matter.” It still has to be said.   Teenagers are killing themselves because of bullying, family systems aren’t broken because without commitment, they were fractured from the start. And justice for all? People with money, notoriety and privilege are disproportionately protected under the law.  We are seeing this play out over and over. I am embarrassed and dissatisfied. 

I am passionate about America’s values. It just seems we aren’t collectively holding up to those ideals. Instead, we compare American strengths with the weaknesses of other countries and celebrate that victory. I don’t want to win just by comparison to other countries.  I want to resemble the ideals in the pledge and defining documents.

“Under God”

As a country, we continually move away from a standard of morality that defines right and wrong, and then are surprised by the results- violence, infidelity, immorality, and deteriorating mental health. The beauty of a country that touts to be “under God” is that religion has the unique ability to create a sense of external accountability, establish a moral code, and provide a platform of culture that can be shared in community.  So religious persons, live up to your convictions, or drop the label of your faith. Americans, seek justice, opportunity, and freedom for all or consider taking down the flag if that doesn’t describe you. Let’s continually create a culture worthy of celebrating.

I do believe the United States of America is the greatest country in the world, but I believe it is still a far cry from where we think we are. We have hurting neighbours.

Let’s rectify that.

I’ll start with me.

Ironically, I’m off to a firework show to celebrate independence from England. This puts me in a weird spot.

This sign- ((face palm!))

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Opinion: Healthcare is Not a Right

I’m going to lose some people here, but stick with me for a moment. There is something that deeply troubles me about assuming that healthcare should be a basic human right. I can 100%  agree that healthcare costs in the US are not manageable, fair, or reasonable and SOMETHING has to be done to make it more accessible and affordable.  And I’m talking healthcare, not just sick care. I believe people should not be strapped with crippling debt because they got cancer, had a preterm baby, or were born with genetic conditions that require expensive surgeries, ongoing specialists and medications. We have to create solutions for everyone- especially our most medically complex.

So walk with me on this thought process- it’s just a discussion, I’m okay with admitting at the end of this thing that I’m wrong. I’m just hoping to create dialogue. 

It’s sexy to say healthcare should be a universal right, but realistically, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Healthcare is expensive because the levels of innovation, the technology is cutting edge, the testing drugs go through make them non-profitable for years, the insurance providers have to account for human error, the amount of certifications and schooling of providers, and the overhead of keeping facilities operating. I think the first problem comes with assuming that healthcare providers capitalise on sick and dying people. Walk through the hospital and see how many people are employed to keep patients safe and alive. It is astounding, and therefore, expensive.

That’s all sidebar.  

If healthcare is a basic human right, then you are asking an entire population to absorb the cost of personal freedom and liberty. If I’m being asked to pay for the entire country’s healthcare, then I want massive restrictions on the lifestyle choices of people. I want very strict controls on diets, levels of exercise, drugs & alcohol, and procreation with advanced maternal age, for example- all significant contributors to some of the highest costs to the system.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Stroke, heart and lung disease, pre-term births, stroke and cancer are all significantly increased by smoking. If you would like your right to smoke, by all means smoke, but if you would like universal coverage to pay for the stroke you get as a result- that’s where your right is hurting others.

Obesity, excessive alcohol, risk-taking sexual behaviours, substance abuse, and high levels of stress also contribute to some of the highest proportions of healthcare costs. I don’t think we can let people have their cake, eat it too, and pay for their gastric bypass. Without stigmas and restraints to personal freedom, the healthcare system does not operate with good financial sense. Like any business, you have to reduce risk to the system. What are the controls?

People in my family have ongoing chronic health issues. We also have substance and drug abuse and mental health issues in my family, so I’m not sitting here as a keyboard warrior talking in ideals. I believe fully in allowing people the dignity to experience the consequences of their own behaviours: the good and bad outcomes of their choices. I’m also not implying that sick people are always responsible for their situation. That would be ignoring science. We can’t solve the unmodifiable risk factors like age, gender, race, and genetics. However, I think we could probably get a handle on healthcare costs if we significantly reduced the modifiable risk factors.

Perhaps my strongest argument is that I am not a socialist- for many reasons. I am under no grand illusion that capitalism is king, but levelling the playing field artificially, in my opinion and world view, damages human innovation, creativity, and families. This perspective has strengthened the longer I’ve been in a left-leaning culture. It dampens that inward drive to create. It robs fathers of the satisfaction of providing for their families. It minimises the significance of the role of a mother and puts less emphasis on being selective in reproductive decisions. It stifles opportunity. It is, in a large part, a major reason we are leaving the UK. It’s great if you don’t want to or cannot work, but not rewarding when you do.

The problem with saying healthcare is a human right is that you have to eat the whole enchilada. If an individual has diabetes, what good is insulin if the person cannot afford or does not comply with a strict diet? What happens when a stroke patient cannot go home because it is not accessible? The scope of healthcare is not merely medicine, doctors, and labs- it is food, nutrition, housing, transportation, and community. It would therefore have to take the place of the family, the church, the community and the individual.  I cannot see where the line can be drawn. To keep a person healthy, you have to care for their pharmacological needs, physical medicine, rehabilitation, social, emotional, psychological, physiological, and environmental needs.

All of the sudden and very quickly, the government is ultimately responsible for every aspect of a person’s life instead of the community and family and individual. That is not reasonable, sustainable, and it cripples the economy, innovation, education systems, infrastructure, and makes taxes astronomically high.

With taxes so high, the people (via the government) have to fund and subsidise even more of the costs that individuals could cover themselves like transportation, childcare, heating, and housing. The middle class is massively squeezed. The rich stay powerful. The poor stay dependent. There is little economic mobility.

*Just a side note: Not counting US health insurance costs or National Health Service payments, our family paid $20,000+ more in income taxes in the UK than we would have done in the US- not to mention all the other taxes on fuel, housing, and sales that are significantly higher.

A final thought: Healthcare is a Human Right.

 It is your right to take care of yourself- Or not.

I’ll post some details about Obama Care- just to give you an idea what it is like- particularly for my readers outside the US. I think some people are in favour or opposed to it, but haven’t actually looked at the plans.  We learned this week how complex healthcare laws are and how much people disagree about how to handle it.
Photo credit: Kathryn Earl Photography

Deja Vu: Brexit & Trump

The Trump presidency is like Brexit all over again. It has been argued that leaving the European Union and the Trump Republican nomination shouldn’t have even been on the ballot. Opponents suggest that these options are irresponsible and invalid, and yet, both succeeded against poll predictions and significant odds. Both outcomes have been contributed to less educated, rural voters with racist agendas whose vote is largely based on immigration policies. The aftermath has evoked supreme court decisions, protests, petitions, politicians kicking off, and grumbling about the democratic process.

Deja Vu.

The morning after the referendum, my friends, neighbours, everyone and anyone came out of the woodwork to discuss the horrors of leaving the European Union. I had heard less than 10 opinions regarding the leave/remain discussion until after the fact–excluding one liners posted on social media. I experienced little to no real life passion about the Referendum- where people put their time and money into the process.

Post referendum, the sky is falling. People are still in a tizzy, petitioning for a revote, the prime minister resigned, the supreme court is involved . . . it’s just mass chaos.  All of a sudden, everyone is an expert in European law and relations and are passionate about the benefits of being in Europe.

Americans are doing the same thing. Calling for a re-vote in certain states, a re-count, changing the electoral college, and then the “Not My President” platform and the protests during the inauguration seem pretty futile.

I just keep thinking “Too little, too late, folks.”

There is a time and a place for this passion and energy. It’s called campaigning and it has to come before the vote not in a march while the president is being sworn in.

In both cases, opponents suggest that the people do not actually know the consequences of leaving or a volatile, inexperienced candidate. They argue that if voters actually knew the impact of their vote, the outcome would be different.

So, I ask, whose responsibility was it to educate those voters?

How did each passionate “Remain” or Clinton supporter help educate voters?  I wish we could have little arrows pointing over protestors’ heads stating what they contributed to the platform in terms of time and money to ensure victory for their views.  I think many would be embarrassed to admit that for the vast majority of these activists, their voice and actions came in hindsight. I think there was a lot of apathy and a false sense of security and a massive disconnect between the voice of the media the feelings of the people. Perhaps it is actually the media and government who need to be listening.

Instead of protest marching after the fact, a much better use of our time is to take an issue we feel passionately about and spend the energy and resources rectifying that in our own communities.

I want individuals to feel empowered. If you are passionate about open borders, help refugees and illegal immigrants obtain resources, sponsor a child abroad, go on a mission trip- get involved. If you are pro-life, volunteer at an advocacy centre, foster, adopt, or finance someone who is. Want more access to higher education? Start a scholarship fund, help kids apply for funding, offer them volunteer opportunities at your company to improve their resume. Be empowered. Get busy.

Your voice is more significant in an underprivileged neighbourhood school than your signature is on an online petition. Be involved politically more than once every four years.

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May- like you and me, are only one person. I believe that each person is just as accountable in their sphere of influence as they are.  Certainly they have a massive platform and influence in our day to day lives, but they don’t live in my neighbourhood, attend my children’s schools, have the unique relationships and skill set that I have. The world needs me to play my part, not punt the responsibility for the well-being of my neighbour to the government.  And for goodness sake people, if you feel that strongly about it, say something, finance it, participate before the vote. After the vote get busy, not angry. Your anger is not effective, but your community participation is.


Because you are now wondering . . .

I voted for Donald Trump. As far as left wing politics go, I think Hillary Clinton was an exceptional Democratic candidate despite people stating the contrary. I think she is likeable and capable. However, I am a conservative and living in England has emphasised that position. Because it is your next question, the National Health Service exceeded my expectation, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and people forget that. It is a culture shock from the healthcare standard Americans are used to, but because you don’t receive a massive bill at the end of it all, I’ve learned to like it.

However, if you say that people are entitled to health care, you also, by proxy, have to ensure they have adequate nutrition, housing, transportation, blah blah blah . . . the government becomes responsible for all social problems, and there is very little emphasis on personal responsibility or individual empowerment.  I believe in government providing for the most vulnerable in that capacity, not the masses.  Left wing politics prevent social mobility. It works in the UK, but it is so contrary to the philosophy of the American dream. It doesn’t work in a country full of individualists who thrive on personal liberty- the Trump platform is proof that this ideology is still strong.

Proud to be American.